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Category Archives: flicks

Daily Demo: Falling Slowly (Live @ Rehearsal)

A few weeks ago Gina and I convened to brush up on our originals for the impending annual Shubin Theatre Holiday Revue, and in the process caught one of our newer covers on virtual tape.

The song is “Falling Slowly,” the Academy Award winning tune from Once.

Gina saw Once early in its theatrical run – before I had even heard of it. The next day she came to rehearsal and said, “I have to play you this song.” She proceeded to unfurl a beautiful, played-by-ear version of “Falling Slowly.” She narrated her way through: “Here the woman starts singing a higher harmony part.” “And, you see, in the chorus he goes up for falsetto -the lines cross.”

I was enamored with the song immediately, though less so when I heard the warbling official version from the soundtrack. I filed it in the back of my head as something to try as Arcati Crisis at a later date.

That later date came this summer, as we were casting about for some new covers to learn. “What about,” I queried with caution, “playing ‘Falling Slowly’?”

Gina was all over the opportunity, with the caveat that this was to be my chance to sing a song without playing guitar. Which sounds like a nice vacation, but it is actually TERRIFYING – partially because the song is tricky and I sing better harmony while I am playing guitar, but also because I’m simply not used to singing without an instrument (aside from karaoke, which is a different beast).

This live @ rehearsal demo of the song finds us at a late stage of the rehearsal process – we’ve worked out the road-map and harmonies, but we’re still fine-tuning the blend between our voices. We’ll debut our performance of it this Saturday at the Shubin Theatre.

This Is It

I don’t think I had the right idea about Michael Jackson’s This Is It.

I thought it would be a performance blended with documentary – much like Madonna’s fantastic I’m Going To Tell You A Secret. Really it was neither – none of the songs in the film quite made it to being fully realized production numbers, and aside from brief thoughts from the dancers and band there was precious little behind-the-scenes or direct-to-camera interaction.

I still loved it.

It’s not an easy thing to articulate why. Michael is front and center throughout, leading his entourage through the all-hits set of his impending stadium concert. However, he isn’t in full performance mode. He is dressed down (which is still pretty impressive), frequently just “marking” his vocals (gently singing the top or end of each phrase), and working through his choreography (always amazing; in several instances we’re shown the day-to-day differences in split screen).

All of those were reasons I loved it. As you watch, you realize that any behind-the-scenes iteration of documenting Michael’s “real life” would be no more real than one of his music videos. Michael was real when he was engaged in his creative process, and here we get an unprecedented, unadulterated view of that.

The most breathtaking moments of the film are times when a performance begins or ends with no warning – as when Michael working the background vocals of “Human Nature” gives way to a glorious acappella verse of the song, or when he directs his tiny blonde guitarist Orianthi to shred harder and higher on “Beat It.” The line between personal Michael and performance Michael is eroded.

The film is documented by a jarring array of cameras, some high def with perfect angles on the stage, some grainy and far-away – like watching the show on YouTube. For the first few songs I caught myself wondering, They put out a movie of this?. But as This Is It continues I appreciated that it tells the story any way it can.

Since songs were synced to specific tempo tracks (likely from samples or in-ear for the drummer), the filmmakers could piece together the most compelling vocal take across the fiercest band performance, and combine it with video from multiple run-throughs – differentiated by the variety of Michael’s costuming (notably a blinged out Popeye t-shirt, a silver suit jacket with bright red pants, and a peaked-shoulder tuxedo coat that makes him look like Jack from Nightmare Before Christmas).

Unexpectedly, the film finds its greatest success when it incorporates the stunningly crisp background videos shot for the concert. They lend depth and context to the piecemeal performances. A silly take on Thriller falls flat mid-film, but the typically mediocre “Earth Song” is powerful and moving when combined with horrific images of a burnt-out planet.

The best production in the film is undoubtedly “The Way You Make Me Feel,” beginning with Michael adjusting the keyboards by singing the part note-for-note to his band, and giving way to a stunning digital backdrop of the dance-troupe lazing across a multi-story scaffold, silhouetted by the rising sun. Michael delivers one of his most un-marked performances, and you are transported.

Yes, there are familiar eccentricities on display. Jackson is flummoxed when his in-ear monitors are too loud on his first run through a Jackson 5 medley, seemingly nearing a breakdown before the director explains that the volume can simply be turned down. He gives music direction in a peculiar blend of vocal percussion and descriptions of texture, which often seem to leave the vocal director and band-leader puzzled, promising they’ll figure it out later.

All the big hits are covered, with few exceptions – no “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” (or anything else from Off the Wall), no “Will You Be There” or “Remember the Time,” and a curious lack of verses on his theme-song “Man in the Mirror.” Otherwise, it’s everything you would expect – the only surprise is the Jackson 5 medley ending on the relatively obscure (for younger fans, anyway) “Shake Your Body Down to the Ground.”

Perhaps the most genuine moment in the film comes when Michael goes all out on the end of “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” with phenom backing vocalist Judith Hill, whose voice is so eerily similar to MJ’s that she is surely doubling him on many of his songs. As she perfectly riffs through the song’s coda the performer in Michael can’t help but follow, egged on by a rapt cadre of dancers in the audience. After finishing out the intense duet, Michael gently admonishes, “You can’t do that to me. I have to save my throat. [To Judith] You’re fine, you’re wonderful. I have to save my throat.”

He smiles, and maybe finishes with “God bless you,” the punctuation on every piece of direction he provides. Every time you hear it you know he means it. This Is It shows Michael Jackson at home the only place he lived his entire life – on stage – and it makes evident not only his prodigious talents but also his depthless gratitude for the people who made it possible – both his crew and his fans alike.

Primer, Primest

I love Primer.Primer Poster A

You’ve probably never heard of it. It’s an obscure, indie, sci-fi movie that’s 77 minutes long with a single special effect, shot on film for under $10,000.

It’s also the 2004 Sundance Grand Jury prize winner, critcally acclaimed, and maybe the best story about time travel ever conceived.

I found out about it in 2005 from Rabi on the day we first set up the DVD player in our house. I bought it that night and watched it three times consecutively.

It’s that kind of movie. I’ve watched it twenty or thirty times since then, almost always two or more times consecutively. It’s one of my favorite films of all time. I want everyone I know to see it, so I can debate it endlessly with them.

(If you have Netflix you can watch it right now, online, for free.)

The problem is, it’s challenging and obscure. For almost half its running time it seems to be about a needlessly-detailed, grown-up, science fair project. The final seven minutes introduce information that alters the rest of the film. By the time you realize its true intrigue, it’s over.

It’s a harder sell than any Nolan film – even though Memento and The Prestige each sketch a close iteration of its plot. Nolan gives the answers and lets you figure out the question. Primer gives you the concepts and let’s you figure out the question.

The answer is not given.

In interviews, writer / actor / director / composer Shane Carruth would say only what the movie was not. He also provided a forum on the movie’s website, where a steadily-increasing number of fans could debate the finer points of the film’s chronology.

(You could also check Wikipedia, but the answer given there is wrong. Maybe. Keep reading.)

Four years went by. Shane closed the forum to new registrants due to a flood of spam and porn. The debate kept churning. And then, something interesting happened: someone solved Primer.


In July 2008 a user posted to the forum that he had solved the Primer puzzle after many dozens of rewatches, and that he was writing a book about it – A Primer Universe. He claimed that he was receiving thousands of requests for the book (never mind that the forum – Primer ground zero – has only 1094 registered users). He claimed that he sent it to Shane and co-star David Sullivan, who both confirmed his theory in its entirety.

Eventually, he posted the book to a blog, leading to other forum users swearing fealty to his theory.

Primer Poster BI read the book. It only makes sense if you have the movie committed to memory. And if you do, it is mind-altering. Game-changing. It completely re-writes the movie, making significant some details that seemed routine and expository. It increases the perceived depth of Shane’s careful plotting exponentially.

If it is real.

This will be the single, most-detailed response to A Primer Universe registered on Google – and I haven’t given any details at all! All other references are mostly on social bookmarking services,a and could have easily been placed by the author. There are no reviews. There is no third party confirmation that Shane or David have read it. There is no evidence of a physical copy ever existing, though he was selling them for some time. The Primer forum users affirming it could be a series of accounts maintained by the author for this exact purpose.

The book itself is a riddle. It could be a fraud. It could even be written and maintained by Shane himself, frustrated that his fans never quite figured out his enigma.

Just like the movie, the riddle of the book is: what is the most prime? It is better to be primer, more prime than the competition.

It’s best to be primest – most prime.

And, when it comes to A Primer Universe it’s as hard to discern its primacy as it is to unravel the cinematic riddle it describes.

9 Reasons I Didn’t Like District 9

I disliked District 9 from the start, but it took until about an hour in for me to reach the “I really might leave this theater” stage.

Mild spoilers, but not as many as the Rolling Stone review.

1. It’s a personal take on sci-fi, except we’re made to dislike the extremely unsympathetic protagonist very early on. A mid-flick attempt to humanize him (pun) didn’t work for me, as he only seemed repentant as a result of his torturous conditions and quickly reverted to being an ass whenever possible.

We’re left with only a vaguely personal connection to a shallowly defined alien sidekick and a well-executed CG tiny alien tot. (The best scene in the movie is when we first visit their home, and find the pair of them to be defiantly intelligent. Well-scripted and -played.)

2. The transition from documentary to omniscient perspective was clumsy – only made worse by continuing use of documentary devices, eventually leading to a transition back to documentary.

3. The documentary portion is too caught up in it’s tasteless racist (speciesist?) humor, and not interested in enough in its characters. Yes, we get it, subhuman treatment of non-humans is a lot like subhuman treatment of people that are different than us. Were you that afraid the theme wouldn’t play to the back row?

(That said, I did love the abortion joke. Most big summer flicks would never go there.)

4. The movie is gross just to be gross. Gore and splatter is one thing, but did we really need the constant vomiting, dripping, severing, and devouring of unsightly food? Again, gimmick in lieu of plot.

5. The major plot maguffin is a complete deus ex machina, which would maybe be forgivable if it wasn’t for all of the antogonists being completely fucking obsessed with the effects of said maguffin.

6. There isn’t a single good bit of dialog in the entire movie, which leaves the audience to be dragged along for the (yes, frequently compelling) ride rather than strongly engaged and eager to follow. They say “fucking” more than I say “awesome.”

7. Aliens are shown to be viciously strong, except where it doesn’t suit the continually contrived story.

8. The action set pieces just didn’t sizzle – lots of noise and wonderful effects, but the confrontations themselves were one-dimensional.

9. The exploding people trick was just done by Watchmen, though I think it was executed better here. Still, shock value was lost.

I’m in the minority to the tune of 80/20 per the TomatoMeter; the review I agree with most completely is Vancouver Voice:

It’s a bore. Blomkamp offers up an ugly world, poorly photographed. There is more debris, more smudged faces, more gore effects packed into this film than are conceivable in the worlds of, say, Ulli Lommel and Lloyd Kaufman. Worse, nothing happens in this film that the viewer can’t anticipate after the first 15 minutes. It’s mockumentary style is rendered inconsistently since there are scenes shot in mock style but to which the implied filmmakers couldn’t have had access. And, like most so-called science fiction these days, it is really a war story in scientific drag. … [T]he narrative eventually devolves into one of those long CGI fight scenes that at least a portion of the viewing public is finding repetitious and uncreative. The film is also achingly obvious in its political message.

Biggest plus? Constant subtitling, of both aliens and hard-to-understand humans. I’ve been watching movies with subtitles for over ten years; I’d watch every movie and tv show that way if I could.

not-so-prompt prompts

In my Google Reader I have a tag called “PROMPT” that I affix to posts that made me think or feel something that I might like to share on CK.

I’ve discovered that prompts are best served fresh – ideally I should be writing a post about that intangible thought or feeling within a day or two of having it.

There are presently prompts on my list from as long ago as September. That is scary. It is sitting in the way of me being prompted to tell you about new thoughts or feelings. I need to flush out all my prior prompts so I can post about prompts promptly when they prompt me.

Let me see if I can string some together in a way that makes sense to us both.


Spezify is a visual search engine, but that doesn’t mean what you probably think it means. Spezify searches the web for text, photos, and social media mentions of your search term, and arrays the results in a collage on your screen. It’s a great way to catch a quick snapshot of a person, place, musical artist, or brand. See what it has to say show and tell about crushing krisis or Philadelphia. Link via Fresh Arrival.


The imitable Maggie of Mighty Girl posted about her husband’s project, Typekit. Typekit seems to still be in a closed alpha, but the gist of it is that it allows you to dynamically embed text in any font onto any webpage, regardless of if you (or the end user) has that font. You can follow the development on the Typekit blog.

In my humble opinion, Mighty Girl continues to be one of the definitive personal blogs on the internet.


Geekadelphia (an excellent blog) recently posted a mammoth interview with J. C. Hutchins. Hutchins parlayed the net-success of his podcasted 7th Son trilogy into a publishing deal and subsequent tangible book. Said book – Personal Effects: Dark Art – comes complete with an intricately crafted alternate-reality game component that expands the narrative far past the boundaries of the book. Probably the next piece of fiction I will read, and setting the bar high for the next evolution of the novel.

(PS: M. Hutchins dropped by to comment less than twenty minutes after this was posted. Nice to see his publishing deal hasn’t changed his net savvy :)


Matthew Sheret (who I found via Warren Ellis) is a writer and photographer with an intriguing list of projects. I am fascinated by his recent post This is a Souvenir, in which he details writing songs for an imaginary band, and how he’d like to take it a step further and have an imaginary record label.

I love that sort of thing – a simulacrum of the footprint left by actual media, but in the absence of said media.

(Speaking of Ellis, I enjoyed his dissection of what it means to be a “digital magazine,” and how that ought to be different from a bells and whistles flash interface with whosits and whatsists. His point (and mine)? You can change the method of delivery, but “magazine” should still mean “magazine.” But, can “newspaper” still mean “newspaper”? Compare to a recent Conversation Agent post about what happens when your local paper goes entirely online.)


Lane is a remarkable photographer I have been a fan of for a long time. Today she posted an unreal photo of a rainbow seen over the New Mexico desert. Recently she volunteered with Review Sante Fe, a local photography exhibition. She posted a sampling of RSF photographers, and their work was uniformly amazing.

Now that Lane is back in the US I need to buy a print from her.


I saw what was perhaps my first double rainbow ever a few Saturdays ago on the way to E’s show at The Saint in Asbury Park. It was so close it seemed like we could drive right to the end of it.

Grudge Match

My friend Rob Baniewicz (of killer improv comedy duo Meg & Rob) shared an article from the Onion A/V Club Q&A titled “Lifetime Grudges.”

The article caught my interest because it’s about lifelong, subjective, sometimes irrational grudges that people develop against artists. Many of the Onion’s regular contributors shared their personal grudge matches, from Sofia Coppola to U2.

Surely you’ve done it. A movie star whose weird mouth-shape you just can’t get past? A musician whose utterly terrible new album forces you to lose faith? The reason doesn’t matter so much. just that they’ve jumped your personal shark permanently, never to return to your good graces.

A few spring to my mind immediately. Alanis Morissette – by her fourth US record she had entirely quit writing catchy, interesting music, so I gave up. Chuck Palahniuk – wrote too many overly-convenient, repetitive books for me to care that he might eventually get better. Jason Mraz – I found his songwriting schtick underhwhelming from the first second I heard him.

The grudge article is an interesting counterpoint to something else that has been on my mind lately: permanent “must-buy” policies. Lifetime subscriptions, let’s call them.

Surely you have these too – an unflinching desire to consume everything by a specific artist. I’ll buy any song by Garbage, watch any movie by David Fincher, and love any print by Mucha, no questions asked. It’s a form of brand-loyalty – these artists appeal to some aspect of your personal aesthetic, and you’ll support them forever for it.

Who is your #1 Grudge, and why? What about your most major undying, devoted subscription? Could the grudge ever (re)earn your trust? Could the subscription ever fall from the pedestal?

Almost watching the Watchmen

Despite my lengthy jag as a comics fan I was a latecomer to Watchmen. I was certainly aware of it, and the archetypes that it played out, and I had paged through it a few times in book stores or on friends’ shelves. It took me until seeing the magnificent trailer on The Dark Knight to get truly and viscerally interested in the film.

For a while I insisted I would stay completely spoiler free so as to best enjoy the movie version, but we all know my will is weak when it comes to these things. I bought my own copy of the graphic novel at Newbury Comics during my birthday weekend with Erika, and devoured it promptly (it had been long sold-out within the city limits of Philadelphia, at that point).

I concede the masterwork that is the novel, but remain pretty skeptical that the film will pull a Matrix-level March shocker out of the bag – good action films simply don’t come out in March, unless they’re going to be huge sleepers that play through Memorial Day.

All that said, here’s two ends of the spectrum:

(1) Harry @ Ain’t It Cool goes typically apeshit over a clip of Nite Owl and Silk Spectre breaking into a prison – just about the only present-tense action sequence in the entire book. The problem is the clip sucks – the slow-mo is completely overblown, and the score is awful. Watch:

(2) On the other hand, IGN sneaks a overwhelmingly positive Australian review of the flick past the supposed misdirected US press embargo (usually not a good sign, especially for genre flicks).

While other purported reviews are cobbled together based on inferences from the trailer and knowledge of the book, this one seems to be the real deal – more detail about the performances behind Rorschach and Nite Owl, and even acknowledging that Dr. Manhattan’s penis got enlarged for the screen (an overly astute observation – he’s only truly full-frontal a handful of times in the book).

(I wonder if they’ve also kept in the awkward Ménage à trois from Chapter III; that would definitely be ooky on screen.)

Less specifically, Wil Wheaton heartily endorsed it in a spoiler-free review, stating:

Zack Snyder’s Watchmen is as close to a perfect film adaptation of Alan Moore’s Watchmen as we were ever going to see, and when his super-ultimate-here’s-everything cut comes out in the fall, I think it will be perfect. But what I saw yesterday is truly remarkable: a big studio movie adaptation of one of the most — if not the most — important graphic novels of my lifetime that not only didn’t fuck it up, but brought it to life brilliantly.

And, furthermore, so did my fucking television-as-literature idol Jacob Clifton in his FaceBook status of moments ago:

Jacob Clifton liked the movie even more than the comic, yet again. By a lot.

(Stalking? What? Me? I have no idea what you’re talking about.)

So, will it suck, or not? I’m trying to avoid my typical habit of passing judgment before I make it to the theatre next week with Wes and Gina, but I have my doubts that Zach Snyder has the nuance to get past the construction of comic book panel dioramas with no emotions inside. I’ll be quite cheery to be proven wrong.

[Ed. Note: I wound up absolutely loving it in the theatre, though I found the extended Director’s Cut unnecessary.]

weekend braindump

My biggest weakness – bigger than any weakness in character, or for spending money, or really even for wasting time – is that I’ll always stop to read something.

It’s such a subtle flaw. We’ve been over how as a child I felt compelled to read cereal boxes as I ate breakfast, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s my voracious reading – how on vacation as a child my mother would pack an entire suitcase of books, because you never wanted to encounter a me with nothing to read.

In adulthood it manifests a little differently. I’ve lost patience for fictional universes, so slow to unwind before me. Now the communications major has taken over. I’ll read Rolling Stone while tying my shoes, and even carry my laptop into the bathroom if I haven’t quite finished reading an article.

Okay, maybe that was over sharing.

Where once I was limited by my physical ability to store words, now I’m only limited by bandwidth and time.

The awful side of my habit is getting caught up in junk words. Trolling through FaceBook status updates. Reading comments from the misanthrope TalkBackers on Ain’t It Cool News. Are these altering my life in a positive way? Am I better person for consuming them?

All that said, here are the more substantial words that have kept me occupied over the weekend.

First, there is Battlestar Galactica. There are a scant six episodes left of this genre-shattering drama, and the press has belatedly gone into overdrive to promote the show (you know, just in case people have time to watch four seasons worth of backstory so they can catch the last six episodes live).

If you are amongst that demographic you probably shouldn’t even be reading these articles, as they are spoilers-galore if you aren’t all caught up through this past Friday’s doozy of an ep. I’ll try not to put spoils into the links, but if you aren’t up to Season 4.5 please don’t click through anything.

Jenna Busch has a fantastic interview with the alluring and well-spoken Kate Vernon, who has always been spectacular on BSG. goes on at great length with Grace Park, who reveals lots of interesting production details – including what its like to act as Sharon and Boomer within minutes of each other.

A thoughtful in-canon letter to the editor about Why Tom Zarek Was Right during the course of recent events on the show (I happen to agree). a brief one with Katee Sackoff, who reveals that she was battling thyroid cancer at the end of the series, adding to the emotional weight of her performance.

OS news has a lengthy chat with Nikki Clyne, who played Cally. I love how all of the BSG actors are more than just actors – Nikki is working on some kind of social networking site? They’re all such renaissance people. For example, scroll towards the bottom of composer Bear McCreary’s interview with some of the actors to read a hilarious tale of how Michael Trucco (Anders) helps launch a historical ship with Michael Hogan (Tigh). Also in that interview, the stunning (in beauty and as an actor) Rekha Sharma dishes that she spent weeks hanging out together in L.A. with Kate Vernon – I can’t decide if that’s better as an intellectual fantasy or an erotic one. ?

Okay, I also read some interesting things not about a fictional universe.

Lincoln’s Laws of War challenges you to recall your AP History as it outlines how the rights that Team Bush so ably dissected were first put in place by Obama’s presidential idol.

A compelling (if a little too detached) piece of longform from VF writer Vicky Ward on the serpentine tale of Esther Reed, a girl who ran away from one troubled life into another in a quest to find some suitable outlet for her secret genius.

A surprisingly personal (at least, to me) take on Michelle Obama, from Vogue, of all places. I love this woman so much. It is surely my goal to meet her at some point in my life.

Nate Silver – of my preferred election website, 538 – uses similar predictive modeling to guess the outcomes of Oscar.

The Academy’s PR team is making a lot of noise about how intimate and different their ceremony will be this year, but I don’t know if they can capitalize on the success of the Grammys because movies are experiential in a completely different way than music is. On the Grammys people tune in to hear songs. On the Oscars people tune in to see stars. Unless Titanic is nominated they could take or leave the movies. Their only hope might be holding the Supporting Actor trophy until later in the program than usual, since it’s the only major award their voters deigned to offer to Dark Knight.

I won’t be watching because – lack of live teevee aside – I only watch award shows with Erika. That said, I do love Hugh Jackman.

best […] ever

[British Belgian restaurant]
We found an amazing Belgian restaurant where I had truly phenomenal mussels. The couple beside us told us they come from outside the city just to have dinner there, and then go home.

[American bragging rights]
Every conversation we’ve had so far in London includes, “What do you think about Obama?” to which we reply in chorus, “We love him!” We have a pretty set script we’re working from at this point. In France it was more polite questioning, but here people have been probing a bit more.

[away-from-home mattress streak]
The wedding hotel mattresses were absolutely heavenly. Like, even the night before with all the nervous energy and whatnot I slept like a rock. I would have tied one to the roof of our car if I could have. Then in Paris we had the sort of ultra-firm Ikea futon mattress that we have at home. And now we’re on a comfortably soft, well-appointed deluxe queen. Seriously, this is highly improbable success.

[water served below room temperature]
Finally, water with ice. I mean, Paris was definitely the best place ever, but I can only drink so much room temperature water in any given week.

[honeymoon timing]
France’s public transit workers and teachers went on strike about an hour ago. We were about four Metro stops from anything of interest; we would have been stranded if we had stayed an extra day.

[drunken plans to write a musical of a movie we watched on our first date seven years ago]
We got sortof drunk over dinner on Beglian beer and, much to the delight of our neighboring couple, debated at length how we would go about writing and staging a musical of The Princess Bride. We got as far as breaking out the songs and their titles and arguing over appropriate voice parts. We’re very into the idea at the moment, but let’s see what happens when we sober up in the morning.

Anything you’d like to add?

La Matrice

On our first night Cèline showed us the DVD player and indicated a modest pile of movies. We managed to get out to a brief dinner, but when we returned we were out of steam and decided to watch a bit of Matrix, en Francais. We were asleep before they broke Neo out.

Our day of sleeping in terminated in a long walk, and when we got back we settled in for some more Matrix. We nodded off just before Neo watched the kid bend the spoon.

Last night after Louvre and our homemade dinner I didn’t even make it to Matrix – I fell asleep watching BBC news.

Tonight, after the Jeu de Paume we walked to (and up) Eiffel, and then took the Metro to Latin Quarter, where we went around and around, before finally Metroing back to the flat. We are watching the Matrix before going to bed.

I don’t know if we’re ever going to watch this movie in English again.